When Pedro Pascal’s The Mandalorian joined Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor and Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron in the Star Wars universe, fans started to refer to their characters – and later, Santiago Cabrera’s turn in Star Trek: Picard, as the “Latinos in space.” It was a fun way to refer to the Latino actors who had broken into these big franchises whose stories occurred mainly in space, but that’s all it truly was. There is, after all, no real Latino identity in space.
Diego Luna’s Andor, however, attempts to establish such identity – or at least a semblance of one. It does so by giving Cassian, our protagonist, a backstory that in many ways, fits with the story of Latin America and forced immigration and by delivering imagery that calls back to Mesoamerican cultures. The show doesn’t hand-hold viewers through this backstory, either. There is no translation for the language they speak, no explanation for what’s going on other than context clues.
The background is what it is, and we are not invited to be part of it. Instead, we get to experience it from the outside as a way of understanding not just who Cassian Andor is – but who he was, and how both those things inform the person he might become, the decisions he will one day make. It’s an interesting storytelling decision, and one that only works because the actors playing Cassian – and Kassa – are both Latinos.
Well, that and because, once upon a time, Diego Luna decided he was going to be Cassian Andor and speak in his Mexican accent, and that was that. This galaxy far, far away was diverse, and there was a place for every person – every accent – in it. Watching it as a Latine Star Wars fan, all those years ago, was a revelation. Yes, there was someone on screen who looked like me, but also someone who spoke like me, like the people around me. Not just that, but that someone was the main character, the hero of the story.
It’s one of those things you understand, intellectually, are important, but that it’s hard to connect with until you’re experiencing them.
Later, it was difficult to put the feeling into words and easy to just dismiss it as an outlier because, that felt like the end of it. Cassian Andor was gone, and though there were more Latinos in space, the idea of shared identity was never a part of the story. This is partly why Andor feels like such a breath of fresh air, not just within the context of the Star Wars universe, but television at large. Yes, this story isn’t really about Cassian Andor’s identity – it’s about the fight against the Empire. It’s about the Rebellion. It’s about what makes a man willing to sacrifice his life for a cause. But his identity still adds up. It’s still important. And that opens up a slew of possibilities.
Perhaps, even in Star Wars, there can be Latinos in space, and ‘space Latinos’ can be more than just a cute nickname for a shared culture between actors and audience. Perhaps that identity can be something that actually has weight within the storytelling. Maybe we can be the heroes without assimilating or changing parts of ourselves. Perhaps Cassian Andor is who he is not in spite of his heritage, but because of it.
And though that galaxy far, far away doesn’t have the same cultural markers that make up the term “Latino,” in reality, maybe there’s still a commonality to be found, to be explored, to be celebrated. Out of all that makes Andor special, its portrayal of Latinidad might just be the most important thing for our communities.
The first three episodes of Andor are available to stream on Disney+ now. New episodes will be available to stream on Wednesdays starting next week.